Author Archives: Jack

The best laid plans

As passages go this one took longer than it ought. The wind direction was typically diametrically opposed to prediction and of course on the nose (OTN.) Instead of a nice southerly breeze pushing us up north to Pittwater we had north north Easterly punching us in the face. This was unfortunate on several levels. Rose Bay is no place to try to scrape your hull, even though I knew EV was handling rather sluggish. Peering down from the surface I’d seen it worse so I thought the props must be pretty foul, but we were going to sail down wind for a couple of hours…right? So no need to add a lot of fuel to the equation…right? Just under a quarter tank should be plenty…right?

Headlands are always lumpy with swirling currents and accelerated winds from weird directions. I could barely make 3kts punching our way out of Sydney Harbor with both engines on but soon we’ll be sailing and both engines will be off. Wrong. With sails sheeted in tight and both engines laboring we made Barrenjoey headland as the sun was setting. That’s got to be some kind of record for a 25-mile hop. The next day we putted over to Cruisers Retreat and picked up a mooring and the next morning I was chipping away at a ball of crusty crap on both props. Mystery solved.

We’d heard that locals call this bay The Basin and that it features some nice hikes and petroglyphs so as soon as I chipped away most of the barnacles off the propellor blades, which involves holding my breath while diving down to the bottom of the sail drives, grabbing a barnacled blade with a gloved hand and chipping away with a stainless steel scraper until my brain screams out “DO YOU WANT TO DIE HERE OR DO YOU WANT TO FIND SOME AIR ASAP?” So far, air has won. We scheduled an early morning hike due to a warning that the path up to the carvings can be steep and the day would be hot.

Oh yes, it got steep and painful, reminding us of Chacachacari, Trinidad, where we were circled by vultures the entire way up, or maybe the mountain pass over Fatu Hiva.

Eventually we saw signs of…signs, and entered the petroglyphs site which was not especially well protected like others we’d seen.

Plaques described how Aboriginals used shells and rocks to hammer a line of holes 5 to 10mm deep and then scratched, using water as a lubricant, a connecting channel between them. Those who ought to know figure that they could finish about a meter and a quarter in an hour in the soft Australian sandstone.

We spent quite a while tracing the outlines of some of the figures which were familiar to us from the rock paintings we’d seen and the flat table of rock that they chose was instantly recognizable as a sacred site, almost like we’d seen it before.

Turns out that at a certain age, as hard as it is to haul one’s aging body up an incredibly steep incline for hours, the knee pain of a nasty descent is worse. By the time we eventually reached the bottom it had taken us so long that we were in full afternoon Aussie sun so we quickly diverted over to a shady spot, in beautiful basin park.

The park has an Aussie kind of collection of animals just hanging out. You should have heard the scream from a family after they discovered this beast while picnicking within a meter of it.

It typically takes us about twice as long as the Aussie brochure says it will so we find that a ratio of 1 Aussie hour equals about 2 Escape Velocities, which suffices for planning purposes, unless wind and waves interfere, but you know, the best laid plans…

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Siren Song

I don’t know about you but it seems like in our travels, the more we see, the more we discover what we haven’t seen or wish we’d seen. Tasmania certainly fills that bill of lading. After yesterday’s Trail of Tears trauma in Port Arthur, with its massive tragedies old and new, we decided not to go back for a scheduled second day and opted for a day of lookouts and beautiful vistas that aren’t necessarily on the must-do, hotspot tour, but we really needed the chill. We’re glad we did. We found ourselves on the beautiful rugged Tasman Peninsula with an extra day to play with, so we set out to see what we could see.

When you’re in an area that’s known for growing berries I say, “Have a few.”

Sad to leave such a beautiful place but we both could feel EV’s siren song calling us home.

Our flight back to Sydney was scheduled for 4:30pm. However the car had to be turned in at 11:00am so our intrepid travel director switched our flight to an earlier one. I couldn’t help but notice the same large bronze sculpture I first saw when entering Hobart Terminal featuring a luggage cart with trunks stacked on it and about a half dozen bronze Tasmanian Devils exploring it, as though they smelled dead meat. I confess that I felt differently about the husky buggers now, than when I first saw that sculpture. Bugs Bunny was right.

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Speak of the devil

We’ve been having good experiences with Aussie wildlife Down Under, even though they tend to be rather shy and nocturnal. I wasn’t leaving Tasmania until I’d seen Tassie’s most famous and exclusive marsupial, the Tasmanian devil. We’d been seeing signs showing people hugging and petting the cute little buggers even though they seem to have a preponderance of large pearly white teeth. You know, how puppies open their mouths and kind of smile while being petted…well those are teeth, aren’t they?

Photo from Tasmanian Devil Conservation Project

We were informed that we probably wouldn’t see any out in the wild but there’s a zoo nearby called the Unzoo and we’d have a good shot at seeing some. Unzoo, that must be where the Tasmania devil petting zoo is. Great. Turns out they have a kid sized tunnel that leads to a small plastic observation dome so you can watch them without disturbing them. Wow, they must be really shy.

After entering through the gift shop we found out that the next feeding was about to start. Unexpected, but as we turned a corner around some landscaped shrubs we entered a small amphitheater, sat down in front and immediately noticed a heavy duty thick glass wall separating us from the…show. Interesting. Eyebrows slightly raised.

In came Crocodile Dundee, slightly out of breath, carrying a small cooler, which he opened and set on top of the barrier. “Did you see him? Usually he does a couple of laps before he settles down enough to be fed.” We looked at each other with eyebrows well arched. There was no devil in evidence, so the naturalist vamped with some informative fun facts on the devil’s lifespan and behavior.

After a few more minutes with no devil he radios to his assistant for, well, assistance. She shows up with a stout walking stick, heavy boots, long pants, vaults over the barrier and charges through the habitat. Soon he appears, the muscular black and white growling spitting devil, and he means business.

From the opened cooler our naturalist pulls out a hunk of gristly bone, meat, and fur, kinda Wallaby colored, attached with a massive hook and cable and proceeds to tease our devil who came in here with a bad attitude to start with and he’s not appreciating the show business qualities of yanking away his rightful food. Seconds later he’s snatched the hunk of meat out of the air and now he’s going to take it home which will shorten the show. So now we have a tug-of-war with the small but powerful bugger, nearly pulling the full grown straining naturalist over in the process. Impressive. Pound for pound they have the most powerful jaws of any animal, so once he bites down it’s obvious he’ll never let go. He can bite through bone but they have poor eyesight, lousy hunting skills, smell well enough to notice rotting carion, and are not the brightest bulb on the tree. Let’s agree to call them opportunistic hunters. They have on occasion clamped down on sleeping humans and I’m guessing it didn’t turn out well. In the meantime he’s managed to get the hunk off of the hook and growling and grunting, the show is over. It’s no wonder that the only thing that Bugs Bunny fears is the Tasmanian Devil! The Unzoo doesn’t like to cage its animals but we can only hope that enclosure for these buggers is secure.

With the star off grumpily gnawing on whatever’s left of his breakfast we explored the grounds. The only native kangaroo in Tassie is the Forester Kangaroo and they had a nice feeding area for guests and Roos.

Most of the animals at the Unzoo are Tasmanian specific and the Eastern Quoll are carnivorous so don’t let the cute fawn like fur fool you.

We also saw a lot of these Tasmanian pademelons, smaller kangaroo-like marsupials, just wandering the grounds.

And as if the Tasmanian Devil weren’t enough, at a little bird show here’s a rather strange bird called a Tawny Frogmouth.

Strange frog or weird bird? Either way he had great eyesight and when he saw an eagle, just a tiny dot high up in the sky, he elongated his neck to look like a tree limb, and stood absolutely motionless while staring right up at that tiny speck.

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Good timing

We’d already decided to write off Maria Island, just off the coast of Triabunna, due to the all day nature of having to take a ferry, the many long hikes, no cafĂ© or ice cream, not to mention the expense. Somewhere in our travels we ran into someone who said, “You’ve just got to go to Maria.” We’re finding Tassie to be tricky to plan anyway, so even a bad plan is better than wandering around aimlessly. Our ace activity planner jumped into action and soon had something feasible worked out. Once again the kind lady at the information office fine tuned our schedule and said you can change the ferry tickets on the fly so no worries.

Soon rain beat an insistent tattoo on our windows as the sky closed in and we were glad to be on a closed-in boat. With a cross swell running out in the Tasman Sea, even in these benign conditions periodic wave slaps jolted the large boat just to remind you where you are, and you travel here only at the indulgence of Neptune. It’s the nature of rain at sea that it comes in bands and by the time we pulled into Darlington Bay, it had stopped.

Everyone on the ferry spread out along the many disparate paths and we found ourselves stepping carefully, dodging an amazing quantity of poo. Whose? I don’t want to think about it. Spare, desolate, spooky, any place where a great deal of bad juju happened always gives me the creeps and this place has it in spades. Evidence of whaling was found on the beaches and topping a rolling hill we ran into a wombat busily grazing, who by all rights should have been asleep.

This island is part of the UNESCO heritage listing for Australia’s Convict History and was definitely not for convicts with privileges but was reserved for what they called convict probation whose focus was on “punishment and reform through hard labor, religious instruction, and education.”

Evidence of hard labor wasn’t hard to find and just past the grassy landing strip doing duty as a kangaroo spa we found the fossil cliffs where convicts were tasked with cutting huge blocks of lime rock for concrete until somebody, probably one of the convicts tired of cutting huge blocks of lime, noticed that the high lime content was due to an amazing quantity of fossilized marine life contained within.

I fancied the longer loop return hike passing through the interior of the island and a large reservoir built by the convicts. By this point the pricey bicycle rental was sounding like a good deal.

Past the engine house, brick and lime kilns we stopped to eat our picnic lunch at the penitentiary and were soon on our way with the most ambitious hike of the day, all the way to the painted cliffs which could only be seen at low tide and for a change we seem to have gotten the timing of the tide right.

The weather started to get serious and we knew we still had a long drive ahead so when Marce suggested maybe we could make an earlier ferry we focused on speed rather than style. Just as I began to no longer care whether we made the early ferry or not we could see it coming into Darlington Bay. After more than eight miles, good timing again.

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Dancing in the Dark

We never miss an opportunity to see penguins, but it’s a tricky business, this penguin watching business. They don’t always show up, kind of like the swim-with-whales excursion tours. No guarantees. So when the penguin folks off Diamond Island in Bicheno gave us a show time of 9:15 pm we were more than a little surprised. How do they manage that? We know several cruisers who have hardly seen any. We’ve been lucky enough to see a few of the little blue or fairy penguins from our boat.

We followed instructions and lined up at the penguin bus shelter at the appointed time and sure enough the bus pulled up and we piled in with 12 other penguin loving souls. The ride was short while the sun set, leaving us stumbling around in the dark. There was a kind of orientation by a well-meaning but unintelligible young Asian woman whose instructions, as near as I could make out, were basically to not do anything. Her yellow-beam flashlight would be the only light permissible. Nicely developed pathways were marked with the occasional solar garden path light, allowing just enough light to see some of the garden we were walking through. Burrows were scattered over the area, some were above ground boxes and some were below. Several had those chubby Baby-Huey like chicks anxiously waiting for their meal.

The flock started with about 45 penguins but the Park Service found it to be unsustainable with the losses due to cats and dogs. Capitalism to the rescue! After teaming up with private ownership they constructed a refuge for the penguins and now support about 600. I believe them. I’d have to say that it smells like 6000, and every night at dusk about 50-100 wobble up the beach to feed the chicks. I guess there’s a few slackers among them, just like anywhere.

It turns out that you’re supposed to hold still with your feet spread apart and if they should so desire, just let the Little Blue cuties walk through or around you. In a little bit of Asian humor I think she said sometimes they give you a little peck or even a little surprise. Cheeky.

Our guide played the only permissible light source over the outside rocks where all the Little Blue Penguins were lined up…just thinking about it. They were very shy and I’m pretty sure at first they just sent in three of the least popular. After they made it waddling up the beach to pass by us, the rest came in dribs and drabs. They quickly dispersed into their borrows to feed their huge and seemingly ungrateful lazy chicks.

They don’t trust their guests to know how to turn off their flash so with no photography allowed the kind penguin folks emailed some of their photos so you’d have something to look at. Even though these are not our photos, they are exactly what we saw.


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Bring the Funk

Great googlie mooglie, what is that racket? I decided I could risk opening just one eyeball. The room is still dark. Don’t think we’re being robbed. Marce is still asleep. There it is again. It sounds like a claxion horn but no one could want me up in the middle of the night so it must be some kind of mistake. That’s when it hits me. We need to get to Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne for our flight to Tasmania and as usual we’re saving a few pesos by taking the red-eye. On top of everything else, there may have been a few errors in back-timing, so it’s all hands on deck, without a moment to lose for the Escapees.

It’s a hike to the Transportation Center in the best of times but lugging all our gear for a nineteen day trip through a large thoroughly dark city…well, let’s just say I’m glad I’m still asleep.

I don’t know how security is out there in the world these days but here in OZ it’s thorough but at least you don’t have to undress. I don’t think I could face that at this hour. Now, dear Escapees, as we sipped our first coffee of the morning, normally this is when we start to remember all the stuff we forgot to remember. First was our little one cup on-the-road coffee maker. That’s going to hurt, but otherwise we’re looking good. To a sailor, air travel is a marvel of painful efficiency. It takes roughly an hour and a half to travel 375 miles but you have to do it in an upholstered torture rack better suited for leg-less children.

The cloud cover broke as soon as we raised the Tasmanian coast, revealing checkered fields of green and gold and finally the massive beautiful bay into Hobart. Normally we would hit the ground running but this time we were left cooling our heels at Hobart’s cute little Airport for an hour and a half, waiting for Eurocar to wash one for us. “It’ll be right as apples by 11:30.” Really?

Finally they finished our car and we decided to head directly for the circuitous road up to Mt. Wellington which I knew would be predictably hard on Marce who does not like riding next to a precipice without guard rails, preferring instead concrete Jersey Barriers that she cannot see over or at least Armco. The lookout did not disappoint which made up for all of the must-we-dice-with-death comments on the way up.

On the way back down we stopped at a quaint cafe that played 1970’s funk sung by Aussie cover artists, some were so good that it was difficult to distinguish from the original. It took 45 minutes to unwind ourselves back down the mountain and find our motel. So it’s pizza and tennis on the tube for us tonight. Our nightlife maybe getting a little dull these days but I’m thrilled that for a couple of days at least this is home.

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Searching for Mr. Good tennis 

It would be hard not to be excited about being back in Melbourne. After all, it’s an artsy but funky town with the Australian Open Tennis circus setting up shop and we’ll be sleeping in the same bed for three nights in a row. Last year while shuffling with the crowd out of Melbourne’s Formula 1 racetrack Marce said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to to do a day at the Australian Open next year?” And here we are, tickets in hand, fabulous boxed lunches from Melbourne’s incredible Queen Victoria Market, and a map of the free tram line.

With tennis it’s strictly a “pays your money, takes your chances” proposition. After all the injuries who knows who will show up for the quarterfinal match Tuesday night? However, being the experienced grand slam tennis buffs that we Escapees are, we came armed with a day pass which gives us access to everything but the big time Rod Laver Court where we think, with a little luck, we will be watching Rafa this evening.

I admit it took a little while to orient ourselves using the little free map which didn’t seem to match reality, at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Let’s just say there were a lot of lost souls wandering around and most of them, like us, were looking for the mysterious #18 practice court where in just under an hour RF, yes Mr. Federer to you, will be practicing! Close up. Just, you know, shagging balls, close up.

Oh my lord, Escapees, how many miles, I mean kilometers, we hiked in the afternoon Aussie sun. When asked, the typical Aussie bloke would say, “No worries, mate. It’s just ten minutes over there.” Well we weren’t born yesterday and we know that ten minutes Aussie is a half hour for us. But we never found over there over there.

In our travels back and forth across the tennis center we started to notice a lot of people were clinging to seat cushions advertising a bank. Oh my god, Marce, free swag! So we added scoring the free blue and white cushions to the mysterious #18 practice court. Every person we asked said, “No worries, mate, she’s right over there, ten minutes and she’s yours.” Well, we are the Schulzes and grand quests are in our DNA. Did you know this place is so big it even has a kiddie park with a its own zip line? After extricating ourselves from the sticky cotton candy crew — of course they don’t call it that — I sat down in total frustration. Roger must have already started by now and the cushion pushin Sheilas were as elusive as practice court #18.

Wait a minute. There’s a huge crowd over there. “Where?” says Marce. Over there under the bridge, not ten minutes away. Pardon me, might I ask where did you get those cushions? Over by the front gate! As I started to hobble over I saw a small blue sign which read Court #18. And there he was, RF himself. Just shagging balls. You know, as you do.

We watched several stars past and present, Johnny Mac, Martina, Berdych. We lazed on lawn chairs by the fountain, ate some Haagan Das, watched a women’s doubles match, a boy’s match, bought a tee shirt.

We found our seats for the evening session up in section Nosebleed right next to the stairs that looked more like a ladder than stairs, for the main event. Rafa was Rafa but to our eyes he seemed a step slow and by the fifth set he had to withdraw with a torn muscle near the hip. Tough to watch.

We saw some great tennis and to end a perfect day we got totally lost in the dark on the way out and had to talk our way back into the park to carefully retrace our way back to our original entry gate and the tram home.

Two slams down, two to go.

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Things take time in Australia

Rising startlingly up out of the flattest of sun-drenched plains, the majestic Grampians thrust skyward like rocky knives against the blue Australian sky. It’s one of those things where, because it’s so flat, you see them hours before you arrive at them.

By the time we made it to Hall’s Gap, our base camp, we were thoroughly spent thrill seekers and as I’m sure all you Escapees know, only the experienced traveler says tomorrow is soon enough and takes his righteous kick-back. We squeezed in a visit to the Brambuk Cultural Center for the lowdown on our scenic itinerary before checking into our mountain-view motel, chosen because it has lots of Aussie wild life that cozy up to the terraced lawn. We sat with other guests enjoying a cold one and watching kangaroos, parrots and a collection of waterfowl as the sun went down.

I guess our early morning run up the mountain caught this poor little guy on the wrong side of the road.

At first we had the mountain to ourselves but soon the RVs started to arrive. Less peace, but the stunning views remained just as impressive.

At the turn off to the much-anticipated MacKenzie Falls a police car blocked the road and we learned that sadly the falls were closed because of a drowning overnight. We had to scramble to reroute ourselves and instead of following the other cars to the next scenic overlook we took a long detour to the site of some aboriginal cave art that we hadn’t thought we’d have time to visit.

Archaeologists have been unable to date the paintings but they do agree that the area has been occupied for over 40,000 years. The wonder of it! Australia’s native population have continuously inhabited the continent through ice ages, massive volcanic eruptions, giant nasty birds, kangaroos and snakes whose somewhat smaller cousins, presently are still wandering around the continent. Things take time in Australia.

The paintings are protected by a cage, itself a work of art.

This site was a bonus that made us even more excited to see the one we planned all along. If you’ve ever played a computer game like Myst you’d know the creepy feeling we had when trying to find the second site. As we approached the dried out dusty park, we never saw a soul. It wasn’t even obvious where to park the car. Signs were missing, fences were erected, and we began to think that they’d had a bush fire come through here. We are pretty good at sussing-out a situation without any information.

First we found a way around the fencing and maybe it was the paintings that drew us to them but we eventually, after much wandering around, found the site.

We were completely alone with the paintings. The mystery and wonder of 40,000 years of history staring us in the face.
The Bunjil sight is said to be the most significant and featured Bunjil, the creator spirit, with his two dingos in a creation myth but even here there were still no people at all.
There are more cave art sites — there is always more to see — but we Escapees were happy with our day. Things take time in Australia.

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End of the road

Today’s adventure begins with a personal favorite of the night manager of the Warrnambool Motor Lodge. His tip last night for a nice quiet pub with Australian Open tennis on the telly sent us to a massive, expensive, incredibly noisy family fun restaurant. Not our taste. Being the forgiving Yanks that we are, we decided to give him a second chance and followed his tip to visit the Tower Hill Nature Reserve, which requires a small detour on the way to Port Fairy. Finding a room around these parts has been unusually difficult and we just found out that a traveling car racing series has been following us causing no-vacancy signs to light up all over the area. I suspect a spot of price gouging as well, even though we’ve reached the end of a The Great Ocean Road.

After a breckkie featuring a couple of egg McMuffins at Macca’s we Escapees wound-up the Lagoon Blue Hyundai and were off. It’s not hard to find the Tower Hill Nature Reserve; after all it spans an entire huge caldera of an extinct, one can only hope, volcano. Immediately one plunges down into the bowl along a strange side wall displaying signs of intense geothermal goings on. The passenger window reveled a huge meandering swamp-like lake, on the floor. The whole park has been reclaimed and revegetated after being stripped bare by European settlement in the 1800’s. In the 1960’s using a painting by Eugene Von Guerrad done 160 years ago, as a reference to what kind of trees and plants were there, volunteers planted tens of thousands of trees over several decades.

Official greeters, these two adult emus, posed for us as soon as we entered the park.

On a quiet walk through the park this guy startled us by crashing through the underbrush just to check us out.

Once again our Koala radar was well tuned and we found a couple of cuties doing what they do.

From the lookouts up on the edge of the caldera.

Next up, after a short drive, we entered lovely Port Fairy, said to be the most livable town in the world, looking for lunch. It is nice. Wide tree lined streets, a fort with cannons up on Battery Hill, and last but not least the retro and irreverent Port Fairy confectionary.

Finally we Escapees arrive in Hamilton at our home for the night and take our obligatory picture with the patron saint of Aussie rats.


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Big on Bombs

The decision came down from on high. We were to decamp a day early from Rozelle Bay, steam down through the ruins of the old railroad swing bridge, under the Anzac Bridge and the Sydney Harbor Bridge, past the magnificent Opera House, sliding into Farm Cove, staying as far out of the anchorage as prudent without challenging the powers that be. Tomorrow The Man would be setting a line of yellow floating cones to establish a border between what’s fair and what’s foul. Yes, we’re breathless with anticipation because the countdown for the greatest show on earth has begun. It’s New Year’s in Sydney Harbor!

We’re here a day earlier than last year because we Escapees wanted to announce our presence with authority. Last year we had a few problems with Johnny-come-latelies and so far it looks good because there are very few boats in Farm Cove this morning as we sidled up to two serious looking cruising yachts and anchored. They came out into their cockpits with a smile, a nod, and a knowing wave. That’s at least a couple of boats near us that we won’t have to worry about. The day developed with an overcast sky and the chop from Ferry wakes was exactly what you’d expect. Nasty.

I couldn’t tell you when the Sydney chop subsided but it was dark and it was the kind of thing that sneaks up on you, kind of like a lobster in a gradually heating pot who thinks that man, we’re having a heat wave and next thing you know you’re cooked. The flip side is that in the morning the wakes started, one at a time at first, until Sydney fully woke up and huge cruise liners were added to the ferries and the tugs and the motor yachts and the sailboats and the fishermen in tinnies until we were engulfed in the full symphony of Sydney Harbor on eleven.

Vessels of all description began to enter Farm Cove. The later it got the more desperate the boaters seemed and the more ill equipped they were with the skills that are required for anchoring in really tight spaces. Cramming ten tons of boats in the five ton sack of Farm Cove just has disaster written all over it. For us it became a defense of our ground tackle. Time after time people tried to drop their anchors on ours or they dropped their anchor but the clothesline they just bought and hastily tied to it was all in knots. So many boats got their ground tackle tangled together that rescue boats just circulated Farm Cove waiting for the inevitable death spiral as tangled boats tried to separate, but couldn’t.

We three amigos who spent the night here helped each other with all the yelling and pointing — “no, not there!” — and only one of us was hooked by a huge stinkpotter whose windlass stopped working so he drove around the cove dragging his anchor like a grappling hook, snagging four boats in the process that followed him around like little ducklings. This apparently panicked him into gunning his engines causing huge clouds of black toxic diesel smoke obscuring the scene and covering the water with a shiny black oil slick.

In between all the anchoring schmozzle, two stunt planes trailing smoke chased each other around the harbor but really the big show is the wizardry of the bombs and sky rockets. Helicopters hovered, coming and going, and with all the police boats it started to feel a little weird, but when the show started, well, there aren’t many things that can make me feel like a little kid again.

It was magnificent!

Watch the news video of the full program here.


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